At long last, a collection that seems worthy of the Vonnegut name. Robert Scholes said of Vonnegut that he put bitter coatings on sugar pills, but A Man Without a Country reads as the opposite. In his old age, Vonnegut had come to find the world at large circumspect, to say the least. He considered himself “a man without a country,” as the title suggests, and was of the belief that soon no one would have a world, much less a country, to call home, that we were more or less raping the earth and that it won’t be long before it dies from the wounds it has incurred over the years. Relentless though his bleak outlook is, he kept the book from collapsing under the weight of his own negativity with a heaping helping of humor.
Humor and profundity. In place of a review, I almost want to rattle off a series of quotes from the book, as A Man Without a Country contains some of the best of his career. Anytime the book started to become mired in that aforementioned negativity, he would pull a line like this out of his back pocket: “Life is no way to treat an animal.” Or this: “A saint is a person who behaves decently in a shockingly indecent society.” Though the resentment he appears to have for nearly all of society still shows, he words his stance so flawlessly that it’s a challenge not to come over to his way of thinking, if only for a second. Which is to say he’s akin to that relative of yours who goes off on political tirades, just far more eloquent and persuasive.
Really, Vonnegut is like family, or at least what I wish my family were like. If my dad’s Fox-News-inspired ramblings were done in the style of Vonnegut, he might actually run the risk of converting me into a nutjob like himself. It’s a shame Vonnegut never ran for office himself because I don’t doubt he would’ve at least made a race out of it, if not won. Unless, that is, his bid were considered a grand joke, as Stephen Colbert’s was. Whether or not you fully agree with his tenets, Vonnegut was nothing if not sincere, and though he believed power to be a corruptive force, I think he would’ve been immune to its effects. Vonnegut was never not honest, and that’s what I admire most about him and his work.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.